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Washington Privacy Law Once Again Fails to Materialize

For the second time in two years, lawmakers in one of America's biggest technology centers have failed to put together a comprehensive consumer privacy law.

by / March 13, 2020

In Washington state, a comprehensive consumer privacy bill that legislators had hoped would pass has once against failed to materialize.  

This is the second time in two years that officials have unsuccessfully attempted to pass such a law. 

After what was designed to be the state's own version of the California Consumer Privacy Act failed to come together last year, its primary sponsor, Sen. Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, this year introduced Senate Bill 6281, which he hoped would appeal to a diversity of stakeholders in its pursuit of an overarching policy framework. 

Legislators announced Thursday that no such consensus had been reached.  

"Following two historic, near-unanimous votes on proposals in the Senate this year and last, I’m deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to reach consensus with our colleagues in the House. The impasse remains a question of enforcement," said Carlyle, in a statement.

On the other side of the aisle, Rep.  Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila, another lawmaker deeply involved in the process, expressed his frustration. 

“Our modern innovation economy is fueled as much by the data consumers produce as the oil used in our factories. Finding regulatory balance between consumer’s data privacy and innovation is not easy — yet is needed now more than ever," Hudgins said, in a statement. 

The bill was passed by the Senate in February and then by the House with amendments in early March, but the Senate subsequently rejected the newly amended version. This caused a concurrence meeting in which agreements could not be reached.  

Like last year, a number of contentious policy points became sources of unresolvable contention. A private right of action, which would've given individual consumers the right to sue companies for privacy violations, was a particularly thorny sticking point. 

Consumer rights groups were more than dissatisfied with most recent iterations of the law —with groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the ACLU of Washington penning numerous letters in opposition to what lawmakers had come up with.  

Activists with the EFF called the law a "weak, token effort at reining in corporations' rampant misuse of personal data" and said the legislation had been culled together by "tech industry lobbyists" and "industry friendly groups." 

While lawmakers failed to pass comprehensive regulations, they did pass a law that sets out a regulatory framework for facial recognition software. SB 6280 requires government agencies to disclose their use of the technology, while also putting in place certain, limited standards of use — like obligatory bias testing and training.

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Lucas Ropek Staff Writer

Lucas Ropek is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and writer in Massachusetts and New York. He received his Bachelor's degree in English from Kenyon College in Ohio. He lives in Northern California.

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